Canoe Trip Report May 2017

We paddle every spring and fall. Some guys have obligations and cannot enjoy camping and whitewater canoeing. A week-long trip excludes most guys. But the usual two-night, three-day trip is the norm and possible for many of our group of 14. After completing a tame yet fun overnight trip in October 2016, I yearned for an ambitious, multi-day adventure. I scoured maps, blogs, and rivers looking for a new river to run. After much time, I found a river north of a 200,000+ acre state park. The area was destined to be remote, provide some whitewater, great cold water fishing, and sure adventure with over 30 miles of paddling.

A long and cold Maine winter raised hell with our firm trip date in early May. The weekend was not possible when winter lingered followed by heavy rains plagued northern Maine in April. The group dropped to plan B, the old reliable, the upper Machias. Many of us have paddled this one at least five times, if not more. As the group narrowed for the open weekend, we firmed our plans.

I left home early on Friday morning. I intended to hit the cabin for some light repairs before heading out with friends. I parked my car along the dirt road, gathered my gear, and hiked. Normally, my car would take me further along this road, but heavy spring rains required me to walk more than normal, rather than destroy the soft road addled by spring rains. I traveled quietly. Thoughts of whitewater canoeing adventures preoccupied my mind.

Suddenly, a large black bear entered my view. I stopped as I surveyed this dark creature, walking on all fours and yet standing 3 feet tall, roughly the size of an office desk. The creature sauntered a bit heavily, a large head and body interlocking and turning together with great force. The bear recognized me, right as I recognized he or she. I stopped, stumbled, and retreated a bit. The bear paused and then drifted into the woods like a shadow passing with the sun. I regained some bravery and held my ground. I contemplated advancing towards my goal of working at the cabin. Many minutes passed as I imagined the bear lingering near my passage. I retreated and returned to my car, having realized seemingly enough resistance for early in the day. What challenging river rapids were to come on this trip?

Ten or fifteen minutes later, I met my friends at a nearby diner. They arrived in a large 4-door, 4-wheel drive truck. I drove my large silver sedan with a trailer hauling a canoe. A good friend, Uncle Don, joined me as a passenger, and we traveled to the take out. I dropped my car and the five of us eventually found the launch site. We dropped gear and loaded boats. Soon we were starting the canoe trip.

Ten years ago was the last time we paddled the river, according to our photo records. The high water levels and distant memories made the rapids an adventure. I remember thinking the trip had just one set of tough rapids, but we encountered three good drops on our first day. My partner and I lined our boats over a twisting drop and a beaver dam on the first day. We ran a majority of the subsequent rapids. The other canoe and kayak somewhat easily passed these sections.

Our first night, we camped along an east-west sand beach. The clouds of black flies from earlier in the day no longer bothered us here. Our cook prepared a five-course meal with personalized menus. We enjoyed New Hampshire mushrooms, lobster chowder, mashed potatoes, corn bread, and garden asparagus. Our colorful tents lined the sandy shore.

The next morning, we awoke and paddled across the windy lake. We found the outlet, navigated small but interesting rapids connecting us to the next lake. We lashed our canoes together and formed a sail to carry us down the next waterway. I carried the mast like a guitar, one arm around the base and the other around the fretboard. We traveled about 5mph down the lake for almost 2 hours. We stopped at a large rock for lunch, remembered pauses here on previous trips, and muscled down the lake via the wind to our next beach campsite. Chicken and coconut rice dinner, along with nice company and a roaring fire, made for an enjoyable evening.

The next morning, we saddled our gear into the canoes. The lake narrowed into a small rapid, then deadwater, more rapids, and further deadwater. My canoe partner and I ran these sections well. Approaching a new set of rapids, I questioned whether this was the big rapid or not. Do we want to stop and scout? My buddy said no. We ran the rapid. We hit the first large drop and took on some water. Serious waves fiercely guarded the passage downstream. I hastily pivoted our boat around a white birch tree standing is a berzerk fashion upright in the water. We dropped down this next section, again taking on more water. The canoe floated a bit recklessly with too much water in the bottom. A large boulder approached us with much speed. Lacking control, we smashed against the boulder. The canoe bounced off the rock. I clamored for some unimportant gear, and the boat wavered weakly. My mistake. The canoe tipped precariously and took on tremendous amounts of water. We were done. The boat, borrowed from a colleague, spun around 180 degrees and caught volumes of water. We fought the canoe to shore, emptied the water, and eventually carried the canoe and gear to safer passage. The other canoe team in our group dumped in the same place, even after scouting the rapid for some time. The kayaker in our team paddled the section, but shook considerably after running the whitewater. No one remembered the falls ever being this big, but the heavy spring rains somewhat explained our situation.

After gathering our gear and boats, including one of our car keys in a bag washed on shore, we paddled through a few more rapids and calm lakes, and eventually found the reassuring site of my car and the takeout.

During this trip, we endured higher-than-expected rapids, ravenous blackflies and mosquitoes, plus a great time among friends. Sore muscles and sunburns were part of the deal. This same group has paddled spring and fall trips off and on for the past 20 years. A few bug bites and overturned boats were completely acceptable. After a handshakes and hugs, exchanged by men who haven’t showered for days, we agreed to paddle again this fall.

Definitely.

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Trails close to home

While I love to hit mountains and ocean-side trails, sometimes I avoid the car when I want more time in the woods. As of late, especially during the short winter days, I stay close to home. There is much to see.

Within one-minute’s walk from the house, a sporadic granite quarry and ledges sprinkle roughly 30 acres of woods. Game trails and old logging roads criscross the uneven land. I’ve explored nearly every foot of this gem. Maybe I’ve walked through this forest 100 times or more.

A few years ago, the utility installed power lines nearby, opening up many new trails and wooded areas. Prior to this construction, I’ve extensively wandered a small piece of woods near the powerlines. The section is sandwiched between a dirt road and a small brook. While this area is not large, I had a defined area I could safely explore. The powerlines created a border along these woods to keep me from getting lost.

Another interesting area I can explore walking from home is a railroad bed now converted into a multi-use trail. The trail runs east west just south of my house and is a decent backbone for other areas.

Recently, I walked this trail east and followed a logging road to the top of a small mountain. I hiked a lower section of the mountain many years ago. But scanning satellite images pointed out a rocky open area worth exploring.

Of course, one easy place to walk from my house is the road. During the workweek, my dog still needs to go for a walk. So, after dark, I grab my headlamp and reflective leash, and we walk the road. I keep the light off to enjoy the dark hours and sights. I use my headlamp only to let vehicles know I am there. Just a few times, vehicles approach from either direction and causing me to jump into the ditch or lurk in a driveway.

I’ve stayed closer to home in the winter, hiking these areas I’ve mentioned, mostly because days are short and I need productive time at home too. Walking these trails and exploring these woods, all without driving, makes me wonder about my last summer. Sometimes I’d drive an hour, hike an hour, and drive an hour back home. Does that make sense when I seek exercise and fresh air? Time will tell how I get my exercise when summer arrives. Until then, I wander these woods, trails, and roads close to home.

The end of an adventure

My Subaru wagon carried me on many adventures in the past four years. I bought it with 140,000 miles and the vehicle expires 100,000 later. Sadly, a rusted frame means the end for this car.

The vehicle is all-wheel drive, making it perfect for snowy Maine. I remember only one time feeling out of control while driving to work in a storm. Plus the all-wheel drive made the vehicle the perfect tank for my cabin road. The road, approximately four miles, has one steep hill to drive up and down. On many occasions, I remember the loose gravel turning under the wheels. Owning the cabin carrying gear. As a result, I always kept the backseat folded down for skis, tools, firewood, chainsaw, camping gear, and sleds. Perhaps once or twice, I folded the seats back to their upright condition, making me feel like a real adult. Then another project, seemingly days later, required putting the seats down, converting the Subaru into a pickup again. I even hauled composted horse manure a few times. A tarp somewhat protected the upholstery. I count at least five trips carrying seaweed from the ocean to my garden. Those were smelly experiences. I remember flies and crawly things swarming inside the vehicle.

Of course, Wilma, my puppy, accompanied me on many trips. She reliably sat in the front seat, wandered to the back seat, stood in the middle of the two front seats, and pressed against me as I drove. On countless weekends and evenings, the Subaru carried me to mountains, logging roads, ponds, lakes, and trails to walk, ski, or explore. On one famous trip, I carried two canoes on top of the car. My friend encouraged me to rest one canoe on the car in a traditional, upside-down manner. And then place the second canoe on top, but with the bottom of the two canoes pressed against each other. My canoeing friends could not believe the pictures and seeing it in person.

Alas, the Subaru made possible many memorable adventures. I look back and smile at the fun we had. However, a new vehicle takes it’s place. And the thought of new places and journeys make me smile.

A year of adventures

2016 was amazing. I count nearly 20 new places I hiked, visited, or paddled. I discovered new conservancies operating lands and trails along the ocean or in the mountains. I explored random sections of woods to piece together a better understanding of the larger area. I scanned satellite images, historical maps, and old guiding books to identify trails, old roads cutting, and waterways through the wilderness. Here is the summary of my 2016.

Black Rock Nubble represents the easternmost arm of Tunk Mountain. The nubble is really just rocky outcroppings connected by an old logging road from the east, and likely far reaches of the main mountain trail to the west.

Frank E Woodward Preserve is a small loop trail on Ripley Neck in Harrington. This trail hits the ocean and grazes a few nearby islands.

Holbrook Island Sanctuary, located in Brooksville, loops through older ocean-side houses trapped in a simpler time.

Ingersoll Point trails thoroughly cover a homestead and acreage on an ocean peninsula. While the buildings are gone, the variety of trails and island views are amazing. Plus the drive to the area passes through a narrow peninsular with old farms on either side of the road. The scene hits you immediately as the road drops off suddenly on the approach.

While Little Tunk Mountain is not barren on top, circling the mountains provides nice views in every direction. Experience hiking nearby makes this perspective interesting.

The northern Long Ledges trail takes a less traveled route into this hiking area. More interesting loop trails being at the two lower access points. However, finding the parking area for this hike proved to be challenging, thus delaying this trail until 2016.

Marshall Point Lighthouse required very little hiking, but considerable driving. This bright white building stands strong and faces what must be amazing ocean winds and waves.

McLellan Park covers a rocky ocean peninsula covered with short trails wandering the woods and point.

Pigeon Hill has a few loop trails cresting a rocky hill overlooking an ocean peninsula and Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.

Raven’s Nest are amazing cliffs hidden in Schoodic Point.

Round Mountain sits on the eastern edge of the Donnell Pond Public Reserve Lands. This mountain looks towards the five mountains in this reserve.

The Schoodic Mountain Connector trail bridges route 1 and Schoodic Mountain. Pre-existing Frenchman Bay Conservancy preserve trails form the base. Potentially, Schoodic Point and Schoodic Mountain can be linked into one nice trail.

Taft Point in Gouldsborough provides two different loop trails hitting the ocean. Each trail passes through remains of old homesteads.

Paddling Tunk Stream this spring was a nice short and simple break from gardening and other pressing matters.

The Tunk Lake outlet runs clear with icy water and empties into a swamp before narrowing again to forming a stream.

Henry David Thoreau paddled the West Branch of the Penobscot. On one trip, he started at the south end of Moosehead Lake, paddled north 30 miles, portaged, and eventually paddled the same waters I did this spring with friends. We dropped our vehicles at Graveyard Point on Chesuncook. Then we launched at Lobster Lake, camped on a high peninsula one night, and Gero Island the next night.

While traveling in November, I met a guy from WV living in OH. He remarked how there was no hiking where he lived. I counted trails quickly in my head. Within 1 hour’s drive of my house, I estimate over 100 different different hiking trails. Acadia National Park alone could have a 100. My numbers amazed this guy. That’s how lucky I am. Traveling further, I can hit the White Mountains and the northern Appalachians. Everything is here. 2016 was a great year, and 2017 has to be even better.

Adventure planning

As one year end, another begins. Winter greets me with obvious weeks trips including cross country skiing, hiking small mountains, ice fishing, and wandering through the wilderness. Those are immediate and definite things. But I am thinking about real adventures, ones that involve months of casual planning to spend days in the woods or on the water. This past fall, I’ve spent hours staring at maps, drawing up plans, and making rough dates in my head. The “regular” spring canoe trip will be Mother’s Day weekend. We aim to break a few hearts, by not being around that weekend, plus catch the spring whitewater for a fun trip. But another river beckons. We paddled the East Branch of the Penobscot in 2014. During some trips, I am so awestruck by everything, I can’t soak in enough of the experience in that first time. I have to go back and do it again. Some mountains I’ve hiked hundreds of time, mostly due to their proximity to home, not because I am bewildered by their beauty. The East Branch, however, is different. Having paddled it once, I am enchanted. I remember huge waterfalls, exciting whitewater, and six portages, a few of which were long and challenging. The pain of carrying gear is easily absorbed by paddling through such a remote wilderness and whitewater area. So, I’m planning this trip for mid June. I know a few friends vowed to never paddle it again. I will go alone if I have to. However, a few friends will join me. So, while I should be happy with snow on the ground and extra time to explore, the East Branch reminds me of a real adventure to look forward to.